Lupe Martínez has – quite literally – played a role in two of the state’s great social justice movements.
As an organizer and leader for the United Farm Workers, and then the environmental justice movement, Martínez can always be counted on to sing and strum songs, including ‘De Colores’ – the UFW’s unofficial anthem – as a way to motivate and unify people.
But there’s a story behind his guitar skills.
In a recent interview, in advance of Vida’s upcoming series on environmental justice leaders, Martínez said he developed his musical skills during a challenging period in his life.
In 1977, Martínez, then a farmworker, was fired after his employer discovered he had been attempting to organize his fellow workers around UFW causes.
“I got blacklisted,” he said, explaining that no other companies would hire him. Martínez started playing the guitar, “out of hunger, and paying my bills,” he said.
“The guitar came as a result of the need – and I needed bad,” he said.
He learned how to play the guitar, and then started performing in bars. Eventually, he started to make a living off it.
Just as the guitar gave him hope during a period of unemployment, his music has also brought people encouragement.
“Anytime there is a rally, you can always count on Lupe and his guitar to motivate people and give them courage,” said Kettleman City resident Maricela Mares-Alatorre.
Music, “just releases sometimes a lot of the pressure that’s on that moment,” said Martínez, who is now the assistant director of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “And it just unites people – period.”
The video clip below features Martínez singing at a Central California Environmental Justice Network meeting in Wasco.
Read more about Martínez’s roles in the farmworker and environmental justice movements in next week’s edition of Vida en el Valle.